Straight to the Point
If like to (or are looking to) bake oblong loaves of sourdough bread, we recommend the Pit Boss 6-Quart Cast Iron Roaster with Lid. It's affordable and made from cast iron (read: excellent heat retention).
When my sourdough baking hobby became a passion project, I knew I needed to upgrade my equipment. The circular Dutch oven I had been using was fine, but loading my bread dough into the deep walls of the blazing hot pot felt precarious. While many bakers solve this issue by using a combo cooker with the deep side as the lid, I wanted something to accommodate bigger loaves in longer shapes. Artisan bread-specific cast iron pans were too expensive for my budget, so when I stumbled upon the Pit Boss 6-Quart Cast Iron Roaster, it was as if I manifested it to meet my needs.
Bread requires steam to help it rise to its full potential, and cast iron is the best way to produce consistent steam in a home oven. When the lid is on, the remaining moisture in the dough creates a thin layer of steam that settles on the surface of the bread. This steam helps gelatinize the starches in the dough, allowing it to stretch while springing up to its full height. Not enough steam, and the crust begins to set and brown prematurely, stunting the oven spring. This means that most bakers are limited to shaping their bread to match the shape of the bakeware they have at home, but I wasn’t ready to settle on round boules as my only option.
The Pit Boss roaster is long and narrow, and I can easily fit two side-by-side in my oven, allowing me to bake two oblong loaves at a time. As someone who eats bread every morning for breakfast, relies on it for lunch, and eats a lot of sandwiches, I prefer longer loaves. Rounded boules are great for slicing off hunks to pair with a cheeseboard, but it’s just easier to pair slices from an oblong loaf. I find this to be more ideal.
When it comes to using the Pit Boss, the dual use lid is the key design element. The shallow side makes it easy to load dough in and keeps it exposed on the sides, so it’s easy to score with a bread lame. The exposure also helps the loaf brown more easily when the bread’s fully risen and the lid is removed.
It’s not a perfect piece of equipment, however. At 20 pounds, it’s quite heavy. I have to store both of mine in the basement, and lugging them up and down the stairs can be tiring. And while the Pit Boss roaster arrives pre-seasoned, I’ve found that it’s not as well developed as the factory seasoning that comes on our favorite cast iron skillets. And because it's made from traditional, non-enameled cast iron, it has to be seasoned and maintained.
Still, at its price point ($53 at time of publish), I’m happy to put in a little more elbow grease for truly excellent bread.
Why do you bake sourdough bread in a Dutch oven?
The heavy cast iron walls and tight-sealing lid on a Dutch oven help create consistent radiant heat that helps bread bake evenly. The lid traps steam rising off the bread dough’s surface, which settles back onto the dough and creates a gelatinized layer of starch. This gelatinized layer allows the dough to stretch while rising, helping it spring to its full height. It also allows for deeper caramelization, creating a crispier crust.
What size Dutch oven is best for baking bread?
While a 5-quart Dutch oven is more than big enough to handle most standard sourdough breads, if you bake a lot of bread, consider a combo cooker like the Pit Boss. Its low slides allow you to easily load, score, and unload bread.